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Manufacturers in the New North region make strides to become the employer of choice

Posted on May 15, 2016 :: Back Office Operations
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Monty Burns may havesaid it best when he quipped “a happy worker is a more productive worker.”

While Burns is the fictional power plant owner in the animated sitcom “The Simpsons,” his words are proving prophetic for manufacturers in Northeast Wisconsin. With skilled talent scarce, and recruiting costly, keeping employees happy and turnover rates low has become a management priority.

Achieving “employer of choice” status is the mantra of the day.

“In the manufacturing field, we have seen more places offering attraction or signing bonuses to new employees,” says Jeff Sachse, a senior economist with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. “Companies are also offering referral bonuses to current employees that are actually referring new candidates to the company.”

Those efforts to create a better workplace were recognized statewide when two New North manufacturers received a Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year award for creating a unique company culture to support employees and their families.

Amerequip of Kiel and Masters Gallery Foods, Inc. of Plymouth received the awards in the Company Culture category, which recognizes manufacturers who demonstrate a commitment and investment in not only their employees, but their employees’ families as well.

Amerequip, a producer of backhoes, mower decks, utility vehicle attachments and service kits for OEMs, has a more than 95 percent retention rate for employees while growing its employment base by more than 260 percent. From investing in paid training, a welcome gift for the spouse of a new employee, and one-on-one time with managers and the CEO, Amerequip has taken extra steps to ensure new members feel like part of the team. The company also provides continuous learning opportunities, a wellness program and family events adding value and confidence to their employees.

Masters Gallery Foods focuses on the family aspect of its business as well with free health care through its Center for Health and Wellness, sponsored family-centered events and myriad workplace amenities and development programs. 

The company’s industrial sales division, retail division and food service division market more than 500 million pounds of cheese each year and exports to China, Mexico and other parts of the world.

Sachse says many companies and manufacturers are following the lead of focusing more attention to their employees in order to keep them with the company longer.

“Over the last 18 months, we have seen new-hire wages start to escalate throughout the region,” Sachse says. “That is a reflection of the difficulty that a lot of employers are facing when it comes to bringing in quality talent within their organization.”

In the wake of the recession, wage competition is becoming a more prominent technique to keep an employee from switching companies.

Sachse says that if there is a significant wage premium that a company pays over its competitor, it will establish a better baseline for workers moving forward, which will also provide a real retention edge.

“If I as an employee know that my pay is going to be reviewed every year, that will give me some confidence that I might see a regular increase,” Sachse says. “It is something that is more initiated by the companies and acts as a more collaborative review structure.”

Attracting potential employees

Before a high employee retention rate can be achieved, a manufacturer must figure out how to attract employees who will stay long-term.

Jim Golembeski sees the shifting paradigm on how the manufacturing field is being viewed.

“A lot of students come out of college with tuition debt and companies are seeing that and offering help to relieve some of that stress,” says Golembeski, executive director for the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “This obviously makes the company look attractive to graduates looking for jobs.”

A big factor attracting workers to companies is the fact that wages are going up, especially in manufacturing.

A group of workers that is really owning the manufacturing field and provoking change is the upcoming millennial demographic.

Golembeski says organizations like the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance are working to change the image of the manufacturing industry.

“More and more workers are coming into the manufacturing world because of efforts to make the industry look more appealing and to educate potential workers about all of the benefits manufacturing has,” Golembeski says.

Companies are basically turning their best asset — their employees —  into a recruiting tool.

“From a retention prospective, if an employee is working more with their friends, they might be less inclined to leave,” Sachse says.